Legislators, University administrators must protect, increase scholarships

With the state’s impending financial crisis, its entities have been hit hard, and there is no foreseeable hope. At the forefront of media attention surrounding Illinois’ dire situation is the plight of public colleges in the state. The University, Illinois’ flagship institution, has certainly not been immune to the trouble. Currently the state owes our school $436 million with that number growing every day.

In addition to the current economic situation, stemming from the national recession, our state’s government has consistently cut spending for colleges.

Toward the end of disgraced ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s term, the state legislators attempted to pass a budget with increased funding for universities. In yet another inconceivable move, the soon-to-be Celebrity Apprentice candidate Blagojevich refused to pass this budget. Things grew so bad that a slight funding increase from Gov. Pat Quinn did little to help our beloved University.

Thus, we as a board, stand behind the University and its decision to raise tuition by at least nine percent. It is important to note that our locked tuition keeps this from affecting current students, and also makes the increase seem larger than it really is. Wheareas other schools might increase tuition for all its students incrementally by a lower percentage each year, fixed tuition rates here mean each tuition increase must be larger.

With this in mind, we demand that state legislators and the University, in addition to the federal government and independent groups, work to increase the availability of financial aid. It is up to our state and University leaders to ensure that this tuition raise does not destroy the collegiate dreams of the lower and middle classes. Scholarships must be made available to those who are in need. Let’s not allow the recession to widen the gap between socioeconomic classes, which will happen if people in lower and middle classes cannot attend college.

Legislators must protect MAP Grants, which University President Stanley Ikenberry said have been promised for the current semester. However, Ikenberry said the money for these monetary awards is not yet in the University’s hands, like it should be. This is not good enough. The legislators must tell us that MAP Grants will be secure for as long as students need them.

Some critics have urged the state to cancel General Assembly scholarships because of the corruption surrounding them. Instead, legislators must guarantee that these awards will be given to those who merit the distinction and require financial help to obtain a higher education.

We beg University leaders to find ways to give financial help to those who need it. This recession is threatening to further divide economic classes, making education less attainable for lower income students. Do not let this happen. We demand that our leaders find ways to offer financial aid when this necessary tuition hike takes affect. Finally, to our elected officials: Never again let education fall this low on the list of priorities. Years of decisions have left Illinois’ public universities starving.